Sound Devices recorders helped the crew of the Oceanic Preservation Society bring to light the suffering and killing of wild dolphins in Taiji, Japan, in its new documentary, “The Cove.” The film, winner of the Academy Award for best documentary feature, chronicles the annual roundup of dolphins in Japan. An essential element of the story was, sadly, the audio, which captured the sounds of the dolphins screaming and thrashing as dolphin hunters banged poles to frighten them and drive them into a secret cove where they would be hunted and killed.
“The sounds we captured were very disturbing,” explained the film’s associate producer and director of clandestine operations Charles Hambleton. “We are proud that the Academy has nominated this film, as this will help to reach a much larger audience and make more people aware of the atrocities that are happening to these beautiful and intelligent marine mammals worldwide and how the dolphin captivity industry exists purely for profit, not education. ‘The Cove’ has also been drawing attention to the alarming levels of mercury and other toxins in all marine life worldwide caused by humanity.”
To acquire all the audio and video that was necessary, the crew required recording devices that could hold up under a variety of environments, including some harsh conditions. Some recorders were set up underwater or outdoors in areas protected by steep cliffs and high razor wire barricades to keep the public out. With their easy setup features and adaptability to any production condition, the Sound Devices 722 and 744T digital audio recorders, supplied by Wind Over Earth, were the right tools for the project.
“With this kind of operation, you don’t really get a second chance,” Hambleton said. “All of our audio was recorded in real time, so it was important to get it right the first time. Sound Devices 744T’s were easy to setup and operate. They were sturdy enough to capture the dolphins’ reactions under water and were easily interchangeable for any audio setup.”
For underwater environments, the 744T was placed in a modified Gates underwater video camera housing. The recorders were used in conjunction with Schoeps and Sennheiser microphones, Cetacean Research Technology C54 hydrophones, Sony XDCAM video cameras, FLIR Thermal Imaging cameras, an assortment of Sony hard drive HD cameras, a gyro-stabilized HD camera mounted to a radio-controlled helicopter, a 7m blimp painted to look like a whale and additional covert recording devices.
Because these recordings were being done without permission from the Japanese government, the crew also required a means of recording for long periods of time with remote access to the recorders. The Sound Devices’ record timer, along with customizable feature selections, made the integration an easy one.
“We found that having the ability to turn off features not being used and entering ‘stealth mode’ allowed us, with our expedition battery setup, to record over 30 hours at a time at 48kHz,” Hambleton said. “The timer was also a great feature as we could set it to turn itself on just before the action happened.”
Using such covert techniques, “The Cove” exposed the practice of harvesting dolphins for their meat, which is then disguised and sold as more expensive whale meat to school lunch programs and as part of the general Japanese food supply. The film stresses the health effects and environmental causes of consuming dolphin meat, which has extremely high levels of mercury.
The Oceanic Preservation Society is currently working on several new projects that will incorporate Sound Devices technology into the audio capture side of the project.